News and notes from Imagine! and the Imagine! Foundation.

Running for Office as a Person With a Disability



Today’s blog post is a guest post submitted by Patrick Young of Able USA.


Photo courtesy of Unsplash


Persons with disabilities are arguably the most underrepresented in public office. Skills they have developed during their lives, including adaptability, resilience, problem-solving, and creativity, make them ideal leaders. Yet, as The Philadelphia Inquirer points out, the numbers in all levels of government are surprisingly low. With identity at the center of modern-day politics, more people with impairments are becoming increasingly politically active.


There is a lot to be done for one of the largest marginalized groups in the country, and plenty to be gained from a candidate who has overcome physical challenges. Persons with impairments offer unique representation from a perspective of compassion. The road to political success is challenging enough without infirmities, but, with the right strategy, victory is attainable.


It goes without saying that any candidate is going to have a lot to consider before running for office, but a candidate with a disability has even more to think about. That’s why Imagine! has assembled some tips and resources especially for individuals with disabilities who are thinking about running for office.


Engage the Electorate


To represent the community, a candidate must have deep, accurate, and current knowledge about the issues that its members are facing. So before launching a campaign, a candidate should be someone already engaged with the community. Although this could also be something as being active at town council meetings. Disability advocacy is one area to focus on, but a candidate must also find out the most impactful community enhancement projects to get involved in.


Community engagement will grow a candidate's electoral knowledge base. It gives the opportunity to meet neighbors and lobby their support. Volunteering for worthy causes and local activities, and social media engagement should help lay the groundwork for a campaign while improving public profile. The candidate should know the electorate.


It’s a great privilege to serve. After all, not many are elected. A candidate doesn’t get involved in the community just to get elected; they’d have been doing their work anyway, but elected office provides them with more opportunities to lead.     


Enlist the Right Team


The quality of the team will significantly determine the success of the campaign. A smart candidate will surround themselves with qualified and passionate people from the onset. If they reach out to the people they know in the community, to grow that network, good allies will emerge. The team should include zealous organizers as well as campaign experts (who will likely need to be hired as consultants), to help navigate the journey.


Numero notes that key roles include: campaign manager, financial manager, political consultant, and communications manager. As the campaign progresses, the team is likely to grow. Running an effective team proves leadership mettle. Candidates will be scrutinized for everything financial because of strict campaign finance laws. Stay on top of that credit report; your credit score can have a tremendous effect on whether you’ll qualify for any funding or financing you’ll need during your campaign.


Use the Right Software


Speaking of financing, here’s an important thing to remember: accounting software options will help keep the campaign funds transparent. The best accounting software will let you handle things like bills, invoicing, inventory, and expenses. And because the software integrates with your bank account, you’ll know exactly how much money you have and precisely where it’s going.


It’s also helpful to have a system in place that can track staff in the field, get real-time updates on the ground, and even use GPS mapping for more efficient scheduling. This way, they’re assured of a productive campaign, while staff is accurately and promptly compensated for hard work.


But that’s just the beginning. There are plenty of other online tools and resources that can make all the difference – even if you’re on a budget. For instance, if you’re working on messaging and promotional materials, you can use this tool to quickly combine videos, instead of hiring a video editor. This will allow you to spread the word while also saving money that you can invest elsewhere.


Build a Brand


Political ideology is important when running for office but the ascent of consumerism has amplified the role of branding in every form of marketing, especially political campaigns. Community engagement is crucial, but if a candidate wants to stand out from the crowd, they’ll need a persona voters can identify with.


This means telling their story. It’s something everyone with a disability has to do over and again, and it can be uncomfortable. The candidate needs to realize that voters may be skeptical that the disability is being exploited by the candidate. They should understand that for every able-bodied person with a negative view of the campaign, there are just as many or more rooting for them. It won’t be easy, but we need the disability point of view represented in government, and we need more leaders with disabilities willing to make the sacrifice.


Polish the Campaign


There’s no campaign without a campaign platform. The candidate should identify the main issues in the community, determine their stance, and develop strategies that can help with the issues. Yes, disabilities are important, but the candidate should develop clear messaging on all the issues. A little clarity and honesty goes a long way, especially for the people who don’t know who they are voting for yet. 


The Bottom Line


A lot goes into running for office. Candidates often have to run more than once before getting elected, which means years of work before seeing results. The candidate should keep an open mind and try to remain realistic about the odds. On the bright side, staying involved with the community has its own rewards, whether they win an election or not.

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